Engaging with women’s experiences of campus rape culture: what can we learn from one South African university campus?

About Campus Rape Culture

Campus rape culture is a set of gendered and sexual beliefs and practices embedded in university culture, traditions and ways of living together. It encourages sexual aggression against women, and sexual or gender minorities, and normalises patterns of sexual, physical and emotional violence against them.

But what does campus rape culture look like? We engaged in this research project to better understand women students’ lived experience of campus rape culture. This continues a country-wide discussion on this issue since student protests from 2016 onwards. High rates of sexual violence in South Africa inform the need for pro-active engagement by all higher education institutions to tackle root causes. We delve into one institution (where the researchers are based) to understand more about what drives this phenomenon.

This website offers an online exhibition of key findings from this research project conducted by the Unit for Religion and Development Research with women student researchers from Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

Disclaimer: This online exhibition, in line with wider PhotoVOICE methodology, intentionally presents the subjective understandings and experiences of selected women students at SU, and does not claim to represent all students, the official position of SU, or the personal views of the lead researchers.

The study’s focus was to delve into the experiences and understandings of women students. It asked, “How are the drivers of campus rape culture understood and experienced by women students at Stellenbosch University?”

It used an innovative participatory methodology called PhotoVOICE 2.0, with young women trained as student researchers, taking photos and making voice notes to document their, and their peers’, experiences, emotions and reflections on this theme. Future extensions may focus on other groups’ experiences.

In this exhibition, you will see their photos, read their reflections, and listen to voice notes that they recorded through the project. It allows viewers to experience the stories and emotions of women students in a first hand, unfiltered way and to stimulate honest conversations about what is going on and the need for change.

This website contains content and images of a sensitive, and at times, graphic, nature which may be upsetting to some. Please be aware of this as you navigate the online exhibition, take breaks as needed, and make use of the support systems listed on the action page if you feel this is required.

Introducing our student researchers

We invite you to explore this website and look at the issue through the eyes of our five individual student researchers. Keep in mind that these are personal reflections and depictions of experiences they have collected on campus. This online journey is meant to deepen your own personal understanding of campus rape culture generally, to showcase some of the findings of the research project, and to journey with each of the student researchers in their individual exploration and investigation of what they see as driving campus rape culture in their contexts at Stellenbosch University. Through photos, text and audio notes, you will learn more about what women students in particular are often experiencing. On some pages you will also have the opportunity to leave comments or even to share your own thoughts and experiences.

Click here to get to know the student researchers and explore their journeys.

Click here

Campus Rape Culture at Stellenbosch University

In 2016, Stellenbosch University (SU) Vice Chancellor, Professor Wim de Villiers, publicly acknowledged that a rape culture exists at SU and explained his understanding by stating that “’rape culture’ goes beyond criminal acts or legal aspects. It reflects a general culture of disrespect and the acceptance of the harassment of women as the norm.” This happened against the background of country-wide protests against campus rape culture, sparked by the 2016 Reference Lists protests at Rhodes University. Amongst various protests actions, SU students submitted a memorandum of demands to SU Management. In response, the EndRapeCulture Task Team was appointed and a report published based on their deliberations. For more on SU and campus rape culture, click here.

By offering space and institutional permission for this research project, SU aims to contribute to a better understanding of campus rape culture not only at Stellenbosch, but also on university campuses elsewhere in South Africa. A better understanding of campus rape culture and its drivers in specific contexts is a first step to designing appropriate responses to tackling it.

Click here to learn more about the lead researchers and collaborators on the project.

Click here to learn more about the research methodology behind this project.

Please go to the action page when you are done exploring the exhibition.